Through the Kitchen Window

Since this column will appear in May -- Mother’s Day month -- I’m indulging myself and exploring a recipe for one of my favourite things.

Breakfast is my favourite meal, and one which I can treat myself to at any time of the day. While I like my eggs sunny side up, coddled, or in an omelette, I enjoy them best in Eggs Benedict. The classic style has you lightly toasting a split English muffin, laying a slice or two of back bacon, Canadian bacon or peameal bacon on each half and topping each with a perfectly poached egg which you then coat liberally with a luscious hollandaise sauce. I must admit, I do NOT do hollandaise well so I rarely make this at home. It’s a great reason to go out for brunch, if you ask me!!!

There’s a restaurant in Montreal (and coming soon to a city near you) whose specialty is egg dishes. Called Eggspectation, it’s always a busy place and THE place to be for your weekend brunch. The line ups waiting for seating can sometimes go around the block. Trust me, it’s worth the wait. Their menu boasts no fewer than 10 Benedict variations, starting from the simple Classic as mentioned above, running right through the full gamut to their outstanding Lobster Benedict; two perfect poached eggs on a bed of lobster meat, drenched in hollandaise. They use waffles, bagels, crepes and plain whole wheat toast as well as English muffins. They substitute smoked salmon (my personal favourite), grilled chicken, black forest ham or no meat. They “kick ‘em up a notch” or two with asparagus, spinach, gruyere or guacamole. They mix and match for you any way you request. Can we say “Benedict Heaven”???

The one, ever present, never changing ingredient, however, is the hollandaise. For those of you who are NOT faint of heart, I’ve included a couple of recipes to try. There’s the classic preparation as well as an innovation or two, and though I say I don’t do hollandaise well, I can assure you, I’ve tried these recipes and they’re fairly easy to reproduce and turn out a great sauce. If you’re still not sure, I’ve also included a quick method I can admit to having tested. It produces a creditable sauce that isn’t half bad.

Classic Hollandaise Sauce

The most important thing to remember for a successful sauce is to use a double boiler and make sure that a) the bottom of the double boiler top doesn’t actually touch the water in the bottom half and b) that the water in the bottom half never actually boils, but stays hot and simmering. If you find the water starts to boil, add cold water to it.
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar or freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons boiling water
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Melt the butter, separate the butter from the milk solids and keep it warm.

Heat the vinegar or lemon juice until just warmed. Have a kettle with boiling water on hand and a measuring spoon ready. Prepare your double boiler so that the top half is above but not in the hot water.

Put the egg yolks in the top of the double boiler and whisk them until they start to thicken. One at a time, add four tablespoons of hot water, whisking well after each addition. Your sauce should have started to thicken nicely.

At this point, you can begin adding the warmed vinegar or lemon juice. Once your acid has been added and whisked in, remove the double boiler from the heat. Continue to beat well while slowly adding the melted butter. Add your seasoning and continue to whisk the sauce until it is thick and velvety. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 1 cup

Quickie Hollandaise Sauce

This version can be tricky because the addition, too quickly, of the hot ingredients into the egg yolks will cause them to curdle and ruin the sauce, so please approach it with care. It’s worth mastering for those times when you want to be able to “whip something up”.
  • 1/2 cup clarified butter or margarine
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 3 egg yolks

In small saucepan, heat butter with lemon juice and salt until it’s bubbly. Add it slowly to egg yolks, beating constantly.

  • Yields: 3/4 cup

Hollandaise Blender Sauce

This is a quick version that produces a sauce that’s comparable to the full version. A bit easier to produce than the above recipe, it still gives a good tasting, velvety sauce.
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp butter

In a blender or food processor, blend together egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and cayenne. Blend until it lightens in colour and is very well belnded.

Melt butter in a small saucepan to the just bubbling stage, do not let it brown. With the machine still running, incorporate hot butter, drop by drop into yolk mixture. The sauce will thicken as the hot butter is added. Serve as soon as possible.

  • Yields: 2/3 cup

Mock Hollandaise Sauce

This version will allow you to enjoy your favourites without the guilt that is sometimes attached when we indulge ourselves in rich foods. While it’s no substitute for the real thing, it’s a creditable alternative.
  • 1/4 cup no-fat / low fat sour cream
  • 1/4 cup no fat/low fat mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp spicy mustard
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Mix all ingredients except the lemon juice, in the top of a double boiler. Slowly whisk in the lemon juice until it’s well incorporated. Heat it thoroughly for about 15 minutes or until it’s completely amalgamated. You can vary the taste by experimenting with different types of mustard.

So now, you’ve mastered what the great French chefs call a “Mother Sauce”. That is, a basic sauce which can be used on its own or can be the beginning of many other great sauces. Below I’ve listed a few of these and what to incorporate into the basic hollandaise to achieve them. In each case, whisk the additional ingredient into one cup of hollandaise, et voila`!!!

Popular Variations:

  • Béarnaise - add a white wine, vinegar, and tarragon reduction – to achieve the reduction start with equal parts of white wine and vinegar and a few sprigs of fresh tarragon, reduce over medium heat until you have half your original quantity.
  • Dijonnaise - anywhere from 1 teaspoon to a tablespoon or two of a good Dijon mustard.
  • Maltaise - add the zest and juice of an orange.
  • Mousseline or Chantilly – fold in one half cup of whipped cream.
  • Choron – basically a Béarnaise with tomato paste added.
  • Colbert - a Béarnaise with demi-glaze added.
  • Zabaglione – leave out the butter and add sugar and Marsala wine.

Now that you’ve perfected the hollandaise factor, you’re ready to do your own experimentation with Benedict variations, but why not try this unusual twist.

I first made the following recipe for a brunch I hosted for Valentine’s Day many years ago. I still make it every now and then. It’s always a hit and never seems to lose its novelty. Not to mention that it really is yummy!!!

Salmon Benedict

    It’s a fairly simple process. For each serving you’ll need a salmon trout (pink fleshed trout) fillet. Sprinkle with lemon juice and pepper and let stand for thirty minutes. Coat lightly in a seasoned mixture that’s one part cornmeal to two parts fine bread crumbs and set aside, preferably in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.

    When you’re ready to serve, brown the fillets in a 50/50 mixture of butter and canola oil till golden.

    Now you’re ready to start assembling. In the centre of your plate, place the trout fillet and set two poached eggs on top (my preference is for runny yolks). Generously douse with hollandaise, sprinkle with fresh ground black pepper and garnish with a lemon wedge.

    Serve it to your guests accompanied by some fresh crusty bread and prepare to be showered in compliments. This is truly a great eating experience!!!

Remember your mother in an extra special way this year. Mothers always appreciate a meal they didn’t have to cook or a special trinket made with loving hands. Whatever you choose, put some time into finding out just exactly what your mom’s favourite thing is and then make sure she has it. I wonder what my kids have in store for ME this Mother’s Day???

I’ll leave you with this tidbit: Friends are those who say you’re a good egg, even though they know you’re slightly cracked.